Forest Farming & Permaculture: The demonstration garden

The Marshall Library Permaculture Forest Garden: Spring Renewal in the Fourth Year

Permaculture forest farming is an important approach to land use which mimics natural forest succession to produce diverse useful yields such as food, medicine, charcoal, and building and craft materials, and which will be playing a significant role in the ability of our region and of the world to adapt as climate change, economic contraction, desertification and topsoil loss, population pressures and rapid spread of crop pathogens make conventional agriculture mostly obsolete in the next 30 years.

The Marshall Library “Forest Farm” polyculture garden is a small-scale demonstration of these techniques for landowners and farmers who are interested in learning about and implementing them on their own properties.

At the class we’ll be discussing lessons learned and changes since that plan was first created and implemented in fall 2011, and doing the next round of implementation which will include techniques such as pollarding, pruning, finessing of the water flow through the landscape via swales and water bars, new plantings of useful shrubs and groundcovers, weaving living willow erosion barriers and innoculating mushroom patches and logs. Approximately half of the class will be a classroom-style presentation and half will be a site walk and work projects.

In the beginning....
Marshall Native Gardens Initiative has coordinated the clearing, design, implementation, and maintenance of a Forest Farm Demonstration Garden on the Marshall Library grounds. This garden was designed by Zev Friedman of Living Systems Design  Zev has instructed and led 3 hands-on classes at the library which resulted in significant portions of these gardens being implemented with the help of his students.

    Zev has expertly applied the theory and practices of permaculture and adapted them to our mountain agriculture. The result is a practical focus upon local food production, sustainable farming practices which are earth friendly, minimally labor intensive, and assist our local farmers and landowners to become more efficient and self reliant. The forest farm practices demonstrated in this garden are intended to allow local mountain farmers to learn about new and exciting cash crops and  techniques for sustainably managed forestry. It is hoped that this garden will also serve as a seed and cuttings source for local farmers.

    The next time you visit the library, take a walk through the forest farm demonstration area. Walk the paths and check out the interpretive signage. Learn about how the garden was designed to take into consideration the slope and drainage of the land. You can see the “Key Line” berms built along the contours which also serve as the paths. This berm catches and slows down rain water to allow more time for the water to seep into the soil and prevents erosion. Also see the diverse forest farm plantings that are being established and read the interpretive material.

    Now that the basic drainage structure and diverse forest farm plantings have been installed, the emphasis in the upcoming years will be to maintain and enhance this garden using best management permaculture practices and to allow for successional plantings and multi-year harvesting of the forest farm crops. These practices will be highlighted in interpretive brochures and future opportunities to participate in on-site forest farming classes. 

    Please drop us an email for more information and/or to volunteer to assist with this important demonstration garden.

                                                                                                                                      -- Ed McNally

      See the master plan for the Forest Farming Demonstration garden...

 Some background:   So ... what is permaculture?
    The primary theory of permaculture is to build ecological systems, which are modeled on nature, to assist people, farms or communities to become more self reliant through sustainable gardens and farms.
    The phase 1 class covering the Introduction to Forest Farming was led by Zev Friedman during June, 2012. 
    In partnership with the Town of Marshall and the GIST program at ABTech Enka, this class provided participants with a wealth of background information and resources on practical forest cropping techniques, as well as hands-on experience with installation of a demonstration forest garden on the grounds of the Marshall Library. 

    An overview was provided of the most promising plant, fungal and animal crops to grow in forest systems; an introduction to ecological design principles for deciding which crops to grow together on a given piece of land; techniques for managing forest farms over time for multiple yields from foods, medicines and fiber to building and craft materials, charcoal and even electricity; and, an exploration of different “guilds”, or groups of companion crops, to work with in different situations.

    The second part of the class was devoted to hands-on work, mostly the installation of a demonstration forest garden on the grounds of the Marshall Library. Review of the Master Plan for the demonstration forest garden, gave participants an understanding about why certain design choices were made. Permaculture techniques were used to install the first phase of the forest garden. These techniques include inter-planting strategies for improved soil nutrition and pest and disease mitigation, as well as strategies for reducing weeds and increasing drought resilience.

    Next time you visit the library, take a walk through the structure of the forest farm demonstration project.  The paths are there.  You can see how the garden was designed, taking into consideration the flow of the land.  You can see the berms built up off the edge of the paths.  This slows down water, allowing more time for the water to seep into the soil.  Did you notice that there are several layers of cardboard below the mulch.  This keeps the weeds from coming through, while being cost effective and keeping waste out of the landfill.

Next comes the understory plants and groundcovers, planted in Fall, 2013.